IHOP, Applebee's to Introduce 'Guest-Facing' Technology to Make Dining Experience Easier

February 22, 2019

By Carlo Versano

When people think of innovation, they don't necessarily think of pancakes and chicken wings. But the parent company of IHOP and Applebee's is hoping to change that.

Dine Brands Global is coming off a huge earnings beat on the back of strong same-store sales at both of its restaurant chains. CEO Steve Joyce credited his success to the company's devotion to buzz-worthy social media initiatives ー like IHOP's brief name change to IHOB to promote its burgers and Applebee's "Dollar Zombie Drink" Halloween special.

IHOP quadrupled its burger sales and Applebee's had one of its strongest months ever after those stunts.

To Joyce, that signaled that the company's decision to focus on the younger, social-media savvy restaurant-goers that make up half its customer base was a prescient move.

"We have the youngest set of customers of anyone in the restaurant business," Joyce said (Dine franchises both IHOP and Applebee's restaurants). And those customers value brands that innovate ー even if that just means a rum cocktail with a gummy zombie brain.

"We're going to do a lot of innovation this year," Joyce said ー and not just novelty food items. The company is experimenting with "guest-facing technology" that's meant to help customers take control of their dining experience. That means table-side tablets so you can order and pay without waiting for the server and ways to reserve a table online to avoid a wait, Joyce said, citing those examples as "friction points" that guests complain about.

Technology efficiencies in back-of-the-house service will also help Dine's franchisees deal with rising labor costs, Joyce said. While those costs put pressure on restaurant margins, they also act as a boon to Applebee's and IHOP staff. As Joyce noted, "they're our customers as well."

"We represent the 99 percent," he said.

Dine is also experiencing a bit of a bump from the ongoing trade war with China. Prices for proteins like beef and pork have dipped as they've become harder to export, creating a domestic logjam.

For full interview click here.